I’m not sure if you remember my Motovudu anti-electronics video ‘The Limit is Yours’? It currently has almost 400,000 views. Since I made that video people think of me as ‘anti-electronics’, and understandably so.
I want to take this opportunity to explain more clearly my stance on electronics. These are not just my latest thoughts, it’s how I have felt since I retired from racing, well before making that video back in 2012.
I think having traction control on our street bikes and trackday bikes is brilliant. A safety net that helps keep a rider a little safer. No negative there. Most of us want to enjoy a day or three on circuit, trying hard before returning uninjured to our family and place of work.
Some of the early traction control systems I experienced were terrible. They were very invasive and restricted acceleration so much the bike felt crippled. Over the years though we have seen traction control improve immensely. All the latest production bikes I have tested are so good that when set to a minimal setting it’s difficult to tell they even have traction control until they save a slide, which is how it should be. The ABS systems on all three brands of the very latest, expensive bikes that I have tested on circuit recently, are disappointing. They may be acceptable or even great for road use, but I’d not hesitate to remove the complete ABS systems and fit the cheaper , simpler , lighter and much better functioning conventional braking system for circuit use. These standard equipment ABS systems will of course keep improving in the future until they work as well as conventional brakes (with an added bonus), but they are not there yet.
Now we come to our beloved sport of Motorcycle racing…
I believe that every professional rider ‘has their day’ on which they ‘click’ with the track, the bike and the tyres, squeezing out more than anyone else can on that day, and in doing so achieve something very special. It happens at least once in their career, but usually no more than a few times.
Electronics have been the most important tool / ‘rider aid’ in WSBK and MotoGP racing for some time now, and so the most important person in the garage the electronics engineer. The major problem I have with this is that not everyone has the same electronic packages (hardware, software, the varying levels of personnel that help the rider and team get the most from the system, plus support behind the scenes from the factory). In fact the electronic packages that the riders in the top teams have, compared with the packages the riders toward the back of the grid have, are hundreds of thousands of euros in difference. So, our “sport” allows it’s competitors to compete on a totally unequal playing field, taking riders who are already at a machinery disadvantage and making it pretty much impossible for them to make up for it.
Bikes have always been unequal. Factory bikes have always dripped with the latest technology , delivered power to the ground better and accelerated harder, but prior to electronic rider aids a rider that ‘had his day’ could achieve a result that everyone could see and appreciate. He’d beat factory bikes on his private bike and force everyone to notice him. A young Carl Fogarty won a WSBK race as a wild card at Donington on a Kit spec Ducati 888 against the more experienced official Ducati riders on special Agip fuel burning, larger capacity factory bikes. The Ducati factory signed him up and the rest is history.
Mick Doohan completely annihilated the opposition as a WSBK wildcard at Oran Park Australia on a locally built Yamaha Superbike. GP teams hurried to sign him up. There are lots of examples so most of us have memories of witnessing these beautiful moments in our sport when an underdog succeeds through pure determination and skill.
I worked my way through national championships in NZ, Japan, Malaysia then to the United Kingdom before heading onto private teams in WSBK and 500 GP. Like many riders I started off riding for lower level world championship teams trying to get a result that showed I deserved a chance on a better machine. I achieved the occasional stand out result that got me a shot with a higher level team and like this the progress continued until in 1998 when I achieved my dream of beating the very best guys in the world, while riding a beautiful factory bike. I feel very fortunate that my career was in a time it was possible to make up for some of the deficit in technology, budget and team personal.
There is another side of electronics I’ve witnessed that not many speak about.
As the riders on lesser machinery with lower level electronics try their hearts out to get a result, it is the electronics themselves that sometimes cause a crash. On more than one occasion I’ve witnessed a chief mechanic staring at his feet at the rear of his team garage. Knowing their rider has crashed I’ve stopped and asked ‘are you alright mate?’, to which they’ve replied (on one occasion fighting back tears) ‘it wasn’t his fault Simon’, before going on to explain how a glitch in the electronics sent the trusting rider into orbit, and onto hospital.
On two of these occasions that I know of, the team did not tell the rider that it wasn’t his fault… but that’s another subject entirely.
Today when a rider on a private/non factory bike in MotoGP or WSBK rides out of skin to achieve something very special, we seldom notice him. I believe that until this situation changes, everyone loses. The riders, the fans and especially our sport.
‘The Limit is Yours’..